Kenya: In words, not pictures

The reason I love videos and slideshows backed by soundtracks is that they make the chaos that is family life seem so much more exciting than… well, than it really is sometimes.  Which is a good thing – I’m all for remembering the good bits.  Kids fighting in the back seat of the car?  Much better with the volume removed.  Moving countries once, twice, three times?  It looks like a whirlwind of excitement with a punchy song to accompany all those sad photos of boxes arriving and departing.

But Kenya…? well, Kenya is an exception to this rule.  Compiling the photos and choosing the music for the Kenya slideshows was a seemingly impossible task.  At every turn I felt like I was failing.  The Safari in the Masai Mara was fun; it was exhilarating; it was unexpectedly relaxing at times, and it was most certainly unforgettable – I’ve probably captured that in these videos.  But it was much, much more besides…The feeling you get when you see a Journey of Giraffes (that’s what they’re called) emerging on the horizon is not something you can package up for consumption, I don’t care how good the acoustic version of Toto’s “Africa” is.

 Likewise, a herd of Elephants crashing through the trees not meters away from where you’re standing is not something you can relive again in a mere photo.  In fact, I proved the futility of wielding a camera at all, when a Leopard sauntered right up to our vehicle, and paused to look us straight in the eye.  When I replayed the video footage of that moment, I received a spectacular view of the grass; and it was trembling.  

So, for that reason, at a certain point, I put the camera down.  I realised that you can’t capture the moment and live it at the same time.  “Living it” meant we could appreciate the Wildebeest, ugly at first, but growing more beautiful and graceful after days and days observing them at close range as they trotted along beside us – or as they progressed across the plains in their thousands, like a great shimmering black blanket on the landscape.  And then there’s the knot in your gut as those very same Wildebeest summon the nerve to hurl themselves into a river full of crocodiles, some making it, others not; but all in the hope of reaching the greener pastures on the other side.  (And just like humans, they’ll head back across the way they came tomorrow once they realise they actually didn’t have it too bad in the first place).

Although the Safari steals the glory in many respects, we were so completely comfortable in Mombasa that I think we’d have been happy just to spend the entire 10 days there.  The Voyager had three different pools to choose from, several bars and chill out zones, dozens of boats and watersport activities and the whole lot was included (yes, the bar as well).  I passed time pool-side engrossed in a book, while the kids were entertained in the water by the fantastic staff at the Young Adventurers club.  Malcolm spent several days out on the water sailing (and – when the boat capsized – swimming) but he so thoroughly enjoyed it that I doubt it’ll be long before the bus is towing a boat.  But best of all was the revolving, all-day-long buffet.  Malcolm threatened to get fat in Mombasa.

The strange thing is, Africa wasn’t even on radar before we came to the U.A.E.  For us, like many Kiwis I suppose, Africa falls into the “must do before having kids category” (along with Central America and India).  If you didn’t make it prior to that… too bad.  What right-minded parent holding a first-world passport would take their kids into such volatile places and maintain a clear conscience?  Malcolm kept asking me how I could be so certain that the wild animals that roam around the camps don’t attack humans?  And if I’m so sure that they don’t, why do these same camps assign everyone a Masai warrior to escort them between the tents?  I must admit to waking in the night worrying I’d made a big mistake.  And worse, I pondered, I’ve never really been that “into” animals anyway; what if it’s not as exciting as it’s all made out to be?  If not for believing that a Safari would primarily be something the kids would enjoy, I’d probably have far sooner opted to do a Mediterranean cruise with pinacoladas on tap and a suitcase full of books.   But the reality with kids, as most of you know first hand, is that if they’re not entertained, you can’t relax.  And Euro Disney was never an option.  Besides, if you’d asked any of us what we really wanted to do with this holiday, we’d all have said without hesitation “The Bus”.  So in a way, an adventure in Kenya presented itself as the perfect compromise.  Not a bus, but a tent.  And a big Landcruiser with the top lopped off it so you can stick your head out – perfect! 

We also needed a breather.  Literally.  The strangling, choking heat of 48 degrees and 95% humidity is enough to reduce you to tears.  At a certain point, there simply was no respite in Abu Dhabi anymore.  With school out for 9 weeks, the kids and I lost all routine, all motivation, all sense of purpose in the day.  I let them watch TV for days on end (yes, me!).  We were also in the thick of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting.  Ramadan runs for the whole calendar month, and you must not eat, drink, smoke, listen to music, make love, etc at any time during daylight hours.  When you can’t eat and drink anywhere – I mean ANYWHERE, you really do wonder what life is all about.  The city simply lost its very soul and heart beat.  Which is precisely the point, I guess.  It’s a time of sacrifice and introspection.  Out of respect, I attempted to fast for one whole day – just to understand what such a ritual is like first hand.   I’m ashamed to admit that I only made it to 2pm – and that was only because on that particular day I only woke up at lunch time. 

Perhaps we took a risk with Kenya.  There’s a drought raging in the North, and when Marion (who grew up in Kenya) told us Nairobi is often referred to as “Nairobbery”, we were able to fill in the gaps pretty easily.  Foreigners are kidnapped and held for ransom in some areas.  And as I said, I was already worrying about hungry wild animals.  Then there was Malaria to contend with as well.  We had to take pills every day prior to departure and for a week afterwards.  20 days of medicated madness, not to mention needing to visit the Doctor urgently if any of us ever happen to fall ill with a fever, for any reason, any time in the next 12 months (though the up-side is at least is that now all the kids can swallow pills).  According to the packaging, the side-effects of the malaria pills could have included vomiting, diharreoa, lucid dreams (?!!) and so on.  As it turned out, we were only affected by the latter – we all enjoyed dreams so vivid that there was competition when recounting our previous nights’ escapades to one another come breakfast time. 

So in the end, the holiday went more smoothly than we could have hoped.  To be fair, I did pre-book everything from our airport transfers to our toilet roll holders to our first and last breakfasts, but also, we have to give credit to our hosts, the wonderful Kenyan people who looked after us at every stop.  

Kenya reminded me what it’s like to travel – to step out of your own world and in to another.  My big point of comparison is Abu Dhabi – where we’ve been for 5 months, but still don’t really know at all.  Part of the reason for this is that we have only met so few Emiratis.  We are immigrants in this country of course, so there is a natural barrier.  After all I ask myself, how many immigrants did I ever make the time to get to know in New Zealand?  Either way, the fact remains, you can’t know a place, if you don’t know the people.  But Kenya is a country where the people step towards you – a big, friendly step with a wide smile.  Sure, Tourism is a key industry in Kenya and as visitors we represent what we represent.  But there was nothing strategic about the enthusiasm of the girls running the kids club in Mombasa.  Nothing self-interested about Nicholas’ eagerness to share his passion for African wildlife.  And I also know that when we visited Samuel’s house and it poured with rain, he brought us all inside and lit the fire to warm us just because that’s what good people do.  

Somehow the Kenya holiday came to an end, but it is far from concluded.  In fact, I’d like to think our adventures in Africa are just beginning…

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